Getting ready for hockey games meant watching Eric Teske and Greg Pietrus strut around the locker room singing "Back in Black." Hanging out at the cabin meant sneaking Schmidt beers and California Coolers to a boombox soundtrack featuring the smooth sounds of Mr. George Thorogood's "I Drink Alone," or Waylon Jennings' "Luckenbach, Texas." I used to sing my son to sleep at night with "Thunder Road."
Something I find really interesting is hearing what kind of music makes other people tick. Have you ever asked someone that time-honored tavern conversation question, the one that goes something like, "Hey, dude, dude, seriously, check this out. So, OK, if you were, like stuck on a desert Island for the rest of your life and could only listen to one album, what would it be?" (Forget the logistical nightmare of having enough batteries to last a lifetime, just ANSWER THE QUESTION!)
Anyway, I got this crazy idea the other day of actually asking people what made them tick, and publishing the results on my blog. But to make it interesting, I'm asking people to put together playlists based on a theme. And I'm absolutely thrilled to kick this little experiment off with a writer whose talent is matched only by the quality of songs I see her listening to on Spotify.
Diana Joseph is an English professor at Minnesota State University. She's also the author of the the comically titled memoir, "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog."
She graciously agreed to captain the maiden voyage of what I'm calling Playlist Playground. So, without further adieu, I give you Diana Joseph's back-to-school playlist. I think you're going to like it.
I’ve been reading this book, Jocks and Burnouts: Social Identity in the High School, by the sociolinguist Penelope Eckert. In it, Eckert describes jocks not only as the kids who play sports, but also as the rah rah school spirit kids who embrace and uphold the values of the institution. Burn-outs aren’t just the kids smoking cigarettes and/or pot behind the bleachers: they’re the also kids who scorn and reject the values of the institution. There’s a spectrum, says Eckert, of those who fall in-between, leaning in one direction or the other.
I was a high school burn-out who grew up to be an English professor. Teenage Me would not have guessed that I’d be part of an institution, let alone one of higher learning.
But I still strongly identify with rebels and skeptics, smart asses and wisenheimers, anyone who shakes a fist at tradition. (Obviously, I vote liberal, refer to myself as a feminist and don’t go to church.) A few summers ago, the city pounded a stake with a bright pink sign into my front yard proclaiming me a Class II Nuisance. The grass had gotten too tall: I had seven days to mow it or the city would stick me with some outrageous fine. I stewed and ranted about this, and I reveled in the stewing and ranting…until my husband, that wishy-washy in-between, said this has gone on long enough and mowed.
A Playlist for Burn-Outs
1. “Rock of Ages” by Def Leppard
The first time I heard gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen, I was thirteen years old. I had no idea what it meant but I liked the sound of it. Ever since, “Rock of Ages” has been my go-to song when I’m feeling riled up and wanting to (metaphorically-speaking) start a fire; rock a place to the ground; go for broke; blow like dynamite; or blow this damn place to the ground. When Joe Elliot asks, What do you want, the only acceptable answer is rock and roll. I was over thirty when I found out that gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen was didn’t mean anything. It was just a bunch of jibberish. That made me like it even more.
2. “Laugh/Love/F*ck” by The Coup
Emma Goldman was arrested, more than once, for inciting riots, illegally distributing information about birth control and inducing people not to register for the draft. It was 1917, and Goldman, anarchist, radical revolutionary, critic of capitalism and prisons, advocate for free speech and women’s rights, was considered the most dangerous woman in America. (She was especially radical in her younger years, endorsing violence—she even approved of assassination—when the ends justified the means.) But Goldman is probably most famous for saying “If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution.”
The Coup is an alternative hip hop group whose songs rail against the oppression of capitalism, the patriarchy, and political business-as-usual. Music that has a political agenda can get tedious but this is music to dance to. I like to imagine Emma Goldman shaking her booty when Boots Riley sings, “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor…and help the damn revolution come quicker.”
3. “Alien She” by Bikini Kill
I’m not only a burn-out, I’m a Generation X burn-out, and grunge was the soundtrack for my early twenties. A song like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Pearl Jam’s “Alive” would be an obvious choice for this playlist.
But the early ‘90s weren’t just about angsty guys in flannel and thrift store cardigans refusing to conform. There were women in the Pacific Northwest music scene, too, and they were raising some serious hell. The Riot Grrrl movement was an underground revolution, punk and feminist and calling shit out. Tobi Vail said, “I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly and partly because punk rock of this generation is coming of age in a time of mindless career-goal bands.” Vail collaborated with Kathleen Hanna to start a ‘zine they called “Bikini Kill” which lead to them forming the band of the same name.
Bikini Kill’s sound is influenced by hardcore punk; their lyrics take on female empowerment, gender inequality, rape, and sexuality. It’s hard to pick just one of their songs but I finally settled on “Alien She.” “She is me and I am her,” Kathleen Hanna sings. ”She wants me to go to the mall/She wants me/To put the pretty, pretty red lipstick on/I want to kill her/but I’m afraid it might kill me.” At forty-three years old, I still relate to feeling conflicted between who I am and who the culture is telling me to be. These days, though, it’s less about ideal beauty and more about ideal motherhood. “Alien She” transcends.
4. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Here’s a song from the original Riot Grrrl, an anthem for the feminist burn-out. “A girl can do what she wants to do,” says Joan Jett. “I’ve never been afraid of any deviation, and I don’t care if you think I’m strange. I ain’t gonna change.”
5. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys
When Woody Guthrie died in 1967, he left behind a huge collection of unfinished work. His granddaughter Anna Canoni, director of his foundation says, “There are around 15,000 items that we have in The Woody Guthrie Archives. A book or a song is considered an ‘item,’ so some books have 100 pages written on double-sided pages. And if each of those is a song lyric, now you're talking about 35-50,000 things that very few people have ever seen.”
But the Irish punk band the Dropkick Murphys got access to those archives, and permission from Guthrie’s family to choose some lyrics to set to music. In 2005, they released “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” The song especially took off when Martin Scorsese included it on the soundtrack to The Departed.
The lyrics are cryptic: I'm a sailor peg/And I lost my leg/ I climbed up the topsails/I lost my leg/I'm shipping up to Boston.
What does it mean? Even Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt Kelly says the lyrics were mysterious, "literally just a fragment on a piece of notebook paper."
But maybe like gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe there’s also something to the way it makes you feel: awake, aware, active, alive. All good qualities for a burn-out.